Morning Report: 2011-05-19

Syria: Bashar Assad under US sanctions. MSNBC: 'The United States slapped sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and six senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses over their brutal crackdown on anti-government protests, for the first time personally penalizing the Syrian leader for actions of his security forces. The White House announced the sanctions Wednesday, a day before President Barack Obama delivers a major speech on the uprisings throughout the Arab world with prominent mentions of Syria. ...' The article adds that 'The sanctions will freeze any assets Assad and the six Syrian government officials have in U.S. jurisdiction and make it illegal for Americans to do business with them. The U.S. had imposed similar sanctions on two of Assad's relatives and another top Syrian official last month but had thus far refrained from going after Assad himself.' Via Ynet, Reuters calls it a "dramatic escalation" of US pressure.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon. BBC:

Thousands of Syrian refugees have fled their homes and are now seeking sanctuary in northern Lebanon.

They say life in the Syrian town of Tal Kalakh has become intolerable because of the violence of the Syrian army and its armed supporters.

"It was raining bullets so we fled immediately," said one middle-aged woman who - like all the refugees - did not want to give her name.

She described how one of her relatives, having started the journey across the border, turned back in order to get her cow.

"She was shot in the head and she was killed." ...

For Syrian troops, Michael Totten has some advice: Don't even think about it.

Three Syrian soldiers tried to defect to Lebanon after shielding fleeing refugees from Bashar al-Assad’s violent Shahiba miltia, but they were promptly arrested by Lebanese army officers and will most likely be sent back to Damascus. “Defecting” from Syria to Lebanon in 2011 is as useless as fleeing Moscow to East Berlin during the Soviet era. Anyone who tries is all but guaranteed to be arrested, will most likely be tortured, and faces the real possibility of being executed.

It’s sad, really. Lebanon, when left to its own devices, is a fairly open place and has acted as a refuge of sorts for writers and dissidents who can’t survive in the Arab world’s closed societies and despotic political systems. ...

Except, of course, that Lebanon is not left to its own devices - as Michael explains in his book The Road to Fatima Gate. Read the rest of Michael's article at Commentary.

Brain-dead UN inspectors leave sensitive equipment unattended in Iran, are surprised at signs that IRI regime thugs may have tried to hack their gear. Geeez, it's almost as if you couldn't trust those guys. Fox:

The U.N. nuclear agency is investigating fears from its experts that their cell phones and lap tops have been hacked into by Iranian officials looking for confidential information.

Diplomats tell The Associated press that the hardware apparently was tampered with while left unattended during inspection tours in the Islamic Republic. ...

Go to the link; in the comments, mindbender2go has a more charitable interpretation of the incident.

Danish film director Lars von Trier: I'm a Nazi. But some of my best friends are Jewish. Fox has the story.

Commentary. SWJ on Al-Qaeda after bin Laden:

Saif al Adel has been named the interim emir of al Qaeda in the wake of Osama bin Laden's demise, according to multiple press reports. Al Adel is a longtime member of al Qaeda's military council and has been wanted by US authorities since the late 1990s, when he was implicated in al Qaeda's attack on two American embassies in Africa. Another lesser known al Qaeda leader, Mustafa al Yemeni, will reportedly direct the group's operations.

US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal caution that it is not entirely clear how the post-bin Laden al Qaeda will be structured. They did not confirm or dispute press reports pointing to al Adel's and al Yemeni's new roles.

Al Adel's relationship with Iran will undoubtedly garner more attention now that he has reportedly assumed, at least temporarily, one of al Qaeda's top roles. ...